January 13, 2015 Articles

TMI: Avoiding the Dangers of Using Social Media to Recruit Employees

Unwary employers could be caught in unexpected litigation when using social-media sources to recruit and vet potential employees.

By Jeana Goosmann and Emilee Gehling – January 13, 2015

Unwary employers could be caught in unexpected litigation when using social-media sources to recruit and vet potential employees. The University of Kentucky learned that lesson in 2010, when a court denied its motion for summary judgment after the university considered a top candidate’s religious views shown on his website when rejecting him for a position with the school. Gaskell v. Univ. of Ky., No. CIV.A.09-244-KSF, 2010 WL 4867630 (E.D. Ky. Nov. 3, 2010). The court rejected the university’s argument that the scientist’s religious views on evolution would compromise his role as a scientist. The university settled for $125,000 less than a month prior to trial.

It is common for firms to post job openings on job boards and social-networking sites such as LinkedIn and Facebook. Employers can even look at profiles on dating websites. Companies can target their job ads to certain demographics for a nominal fee on some sites. Human-resource managers often review employee candidates’ online profiles in the hiring decision. However, this online vetting does not occur just in major companies. In fact, the authors reviewed potential nannies’ Pinterest and LinkedIn pages when making the decision to hire their nannies, and the Society for Human Resources Management found that 77 percent of companies surveyed in 2013 use networking sites to recruit.

These websites can contain fantastic information for potential employers. For instance, an employee hired as a marketing executive at a start-up may have a substantial number of “followers,” and this candidate’s trend-setting status would be considered a great plus to his or her employer-to-be. In the case of a nanny, seeing Pins involving kids’ activities and organization go a long way in a hiring decision for such a household employee. However, many social-media profiles contain information that could give a potential employer knowledge that a candidate is in a protected class. For instance, a Facebook page alone can tell you the gender, race, age, marital status, sexual orientation, and religion, and even include a pregnancy announcement or a statement that an individual has a disability.

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